REUNION OR REJUVENATION?
As our van with nine 80-year-old men pulled up in front of Bob and Elizabeth Word’s lakeside home in Scottsboro, Alabama the morning of April 20th, 2017, we saw another group of 80 year-old-men gathered on the front lawn talking. Passersby surely wondered about the occasion – What would bring together such a homogeneous and youth challenged group? Maybe there had been a funeral? If so, why weren’t there any women? Where were the young people? How could old men be that happy?
"We were Pikes at Auburn during a magical time; we were at the top of the fraternity food chain. We excelled in campus politics, intrafraternity athletics, scholastics, and most of all, being fraternal – we liked and loved each other and our university."
In fact, this was a college fraternity reunion. We were Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity members at Auburn University in the 1950’s (Then officially Alabama Polytechnic Institute).
This group had enjoyed a number of reunions over the years but as we aged and our numbers dwindled, enthusiasm for organizing a big event at the university had diminished. The gathering at “Word’s” was pure happenstance. There are a group, including Bob and a few other Auburn 1950’s Pikes, who meet for lunch at a local Scottsboro “meat and three” on a daily basis. Last year after Gene Birdsong lost his sweet wife Pat, I mentioned to Bob that it would do Gene good to get away, and that we would like to drive up and join the group for lunch one day soon.
Bob ran with the idea and invited Pikes from our era living in the area to his house for refreshments and then to a local restaurant (reserved solely for us) for lunch. Nineteen showed up and a wonderful time was had by all. This year Bob decided to expand the invitation and 34 from all over Alabama, from Tennessee, Texas, and Florida showed up. Bob footed the bill and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The above two paragraphs describe the background, the origins, and the activities but don’t begin to describe the emotional and physical impact it had on each of us. The first things you notice, when seeing old friends after several or more years, are the physical changes. The aging process, including the constant tug of gravity, is relentless and spares no man. It’s also rare for anyone in their 80s not to have various afflictions, only some of which are externally evident. The statistics are daunting; well over half of our age group have died. Our life expectancy when we were born was about sixty-one. We have all lived about 20 years longer than expected at our birth. (I have enjoyed a lot of life during this 20 year bonus period and I’m grateful for the extra time.) Friends who knew us in our youth are a precious and all too rare commodity. How many people have a history with you that goes back 65 years like these men had? “Do you remember?” were the most common words spoken.
As we talked and remembered, the transformation began. Backs were straighter, wrinkles disappeared, bald spots covered with wavy thick hair, voices were clearer, walking aides discarded and memories improved. We regressed until we were back in our early manhood when all things were possible and each day full of excitement with new things to learn and new experiences to be had. Most were tried and a few regretted. We were Pikes at Auburn during a magical time; we were at the top of the fraternity food chain. We excelled in campus politics, intra fraternity athletics, scholastics, and most of all, being fraternal – we liked and loved each other and our university. Music, perhaps nature’s best bonding agent, cemented our unity as we sang joyfully together each night in our dining room.
We left the Word’s house around noon and made the short drive to an empty restaurant on the lake which we soon filled with loud happy voices enjoying an excellent communion meal. There was little or no talk of politics nor of our business and professional exploits. One’s balance sheet earned no deference nor any particular curiosity. We were interested in each other and our mutually formative experience as PiKA’s at Auburn, which though a lifetime ago, seemed like yesterday. We closed the event with a series of the same songs we sang at those meals at that beautiful house on Gay St. in Auburn, Alabama. The voices were as enthusiastic and sounded as good to me as they did back then. We laughed when we sang just as we did then, even though bawdy words should have been far too childish for mature men to enjoy.
We parted with happiness and moved with a lightness we hadn’t known that morning, promising we would do it again next year, while sadly understanding that by then one or more of us would have joined our departed brothers in life’s next big adventure.
REFLECTIONSIn Retrospect, attendance at the 2017 Scottsboro Reunion was remarkable. There were 34 men present, with very little promotion and little in the way of a program draw, out of approximately 200 Pikes who were members during the 1950’s. The compelling urge that made these 80 year old men leave their homes and travel to Scottsboro, AL was purely the desire to fellowship with other men with whom they developed unbreakable ties over 60 years ago.
Contrast this with my last (60th) Auburn reunion with all its promotion and hype (dinner at the President’s mansion, campus tour and a dance featuring the Auburn Knights). I estimate Auburn Class size in 1955 to be about 2,000; yet there were only nine or 13 present. The Scottsboro Reunion had three times as many PiKA’s attend as attended the Auburn 2015 Golden Eagles Reunion for the entire Auburn University Class of 1955.
Something special and remarkable happened in Scottsboro, AL on April 20, 2017.